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Power Tunes Playback

by Derrick Story
04/18/2003

Author's note: Digital technology's impact on photography and video has changed the way we use these media. And thanks to MP3, Ogg Vorbis, and other compressed encoding formats, we're seeing a similar revolution in the world of music. Tools such as iTunes, QuickTime, and the iPod have become facilitators for our personal entertainment. But recently, through my work as a wedding photographer, I've noticed another evolution underway that goes beyond listening to your iPod on the bus. The DJ's bulky music cart, once brimming with hundreds of CDs and lots of hardware (that required a van to lug around), seems to be shrinking in size, possibly down to the size of a 1" thick PowerBook.

Here's a brief real life story from a recent wedding I worked, followed by a technical conversation covering a few powerful playback options you have available on your Mac OS X laptop. Included in this discussion is the procedure for updating QuickTime 6.1 to playback and encode Ogg Vorbis files, which are an open source alternative to MP3s.

PowerBook in the Chapel

As I took my position with camera in hand and waited for the groom to make his entrance, I noticed a couple of guys off in a corner pew peering into an illuminated G4 PowerBook. You don't see TiBook-toting wedding attendees every day, so I made a mental note to find out later what they were up to. As the ceremony got underway, however, I became immersed in my own problems of using existing light photography for the ring exchange, forgetting all about my high tech comrades off in the corner.

Photo of
wedding attendees with a PowerBook.
TiBook-toting wedding attendees? It's not everyday I see someone bring a PowerBook to a wedding. Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued.

Fast forward to the reception. We gathered in a big Chinese restaurant for post-ceremony festivities featuring 13 courses, including delicacies such as pickled jellyfish, shark fin soup, and jumbo prawns. Music was wafting though the air, intertwined with the din of conversation and smells of deep fried seafood. As the party rolled into the evening hours, the music got louder and dance floor more crowded.

The TiBook Reappears

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At one point I looked over at the DJ table and recognized my techy friends from the church. They had the TiBook plugged into a soundboard and were using iTunes to serve up the music. As I looked closer, I saw an iPod there too. Apparently when they wanted to crossfade from one song to the next, they would use the soundboard and the iPod for the incoming track. I was going to go over and study their setup more closely, but every time I made an approach someone would toast, kiss, or pose for a spontaneous group shot.

I've been to a lot of receptions over the years, and I always notice the DJs. Often I have to work with them to coordinate the timing of the evening's events. Other than the chance to grab a few bites from the banquet table and do a little people watching, the music is my primary source of entertainment. These two "DJs for a night" were doing a heck of a good job--playing a variety of tunes, taking requests (and playing them almost instantly thanks to iTunes powerful search function), and running the show without ever breaking a sweat.

The PA system, apparently, was supplied by the restaurant. So when the event was over, my two clever friends simply closed the lid on the PowerBook, put the iPod in a pocket, and disappeared into the night, probably to go listen to someone else play the music at a club.

There's More Than One Way to Spin a Disc

Afterward I started thinking about music on the Mac in a new way. I had always thought of iTunes as more of a personal entertainment application, but not so much for professional use, like big time event disc jockeying. But my ears have been opened.

With a little research I discovered that there are a number of budget DJ programs for Mac OS X, most of which are not very highly rated. But one in particular, Tactile12000, is pretty slick. It includes a virtual two-turntable console with a mixer so you can crossfade, backspin, and even speed up and slow down the playback. And best of all, it's free for the downloading.

Photo of Tactile12000
Tactile12000 is a nifty free application that lets you load up two virtual turntables and crossfade between them. It's not fancy, but the results can be quite good.

Mac OS X provides you with a couple ways to spin your discs, so to speak. You could build your playlists in iTunes and serve them up right there in the application. If you want to build in an occasional crossfade via an iPod (or another PowerBook), just get yourself a little mixing board and you're in business. Or you could use iTunes to rip and organize your music, but build the playlist and play the tunes with a DJ application such as Tactile12000 that eliminates the need for a mixer (since it's built into the app), allowing your Mac to control everything. Simply connect to the PA system via the headphone jack and you're in business. (You'll probably need a miniplug to standard plug adapter for this. Be prepared.)

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